Wednesday, 04 October 2023

Arts & Life

Yanahay Hooper and Lex Krauss get into the music at Friday's concert. Photo by Harold LaBonte.


LAKEPORT – As luck would have it, while the temperatures rose so did the late afternoon winds, balancing the 93-plus degrees burning down on Lakeport's Library Park, home to the Summer Concerts in the Park series.

Cooking up more heat and adding to the summer time fun was Rootstock.

Enjoying their third trip to the 19-year-old concert series, the Ukiah-based Reggae band Rootstock drew in another huge crowd to what has turned out to be another of Lake County's hip destinations.

Not a single $150.00 ticket could be found anywhere ... yet, once again, a crowd estimated at 2,000-plus filled the park. Several dozen to more than 100 people at anytime enjoyed the dance lawn all afternoon, into the evening and right up to the final number.



Just three shows are remaining in this year's summer series. Attendance is expected to remain high and the fun returns next Friday afternoon when Levi Lloyd & The 501 Band crank up the bluesy tunes for week No. 8.

Don't miss out! The Summer Concerts in the Park and summer itself will end before you know it!




A closeup of Rootstock's trumpter, Jim Dooley. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



Another big crowd attended Friday's concert. Photo by Harold LaBonte.

Bettie Mae Fikes had the audience in the palm of her hand during her performances at the festival. Photo by Abbye Brenner.

UPPER LAKE – The two sets performed by Bettie Mae Fikes on the night of Thursday, July 19, during the inaugural Blue Wing Blues Festival were preceded and augmented by the Levi Lloyd Band whose members were identified in part one of this article.

Although Rob Watson of James Brown's Soul Generals was advertised as the band leader, a last-minute gig for the Soul Generals in Italy required Rob to call on Levi LLoyd and his crew to provide instrumentation for Ms. Bettie. Ironically, Ron Perry, the bass player, gave Rob Watson his first gig and mentored him early on in his career.

Sound man D. Wills was a great crowd warmer with his dancing and singing antics on "It's Your Thing." Levi Lloyd's rendition of Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man" was dedicated to festival organizer Bernie Butcher.

From the opening chords of the great ballad "Soul Serenade," on through "Let The Good Times Roll," a medley combining T-Bone Walker's, "Stormy Monday" and B.B. King's "Nobody Loves Me But My Mama," was Bettie Mae improvising, testifying and singing the blues at its finest, despite struggling with allergies during her first set.

Remarkably, her voice was stronger during the second set and those in attendance marveled at the ease in which Fikes improved upon excellence. She truly had us like putty in her palm. She summed her expertise by commenting, "Though I love jazz, pop and country, the blues and gospel are what get me through this experience called life." Kudos to Lake County resident Mike Magbie for guesting on harmonica on "You Got Me Running."

Look out for Bettie's next CD, currently being recorded in Lake County.


Summer Of Love Legend Mike Wilhelm and Lake Blues All-Stars featuring Jim Williams and Jon Hopkins were an early crowd favorite on Thursday night. Their set included Robert Johnson's "Love In Vain" and B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby."

Hopkins, the "Barrister of Bass," did a fine rendition of Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man," playing bass and harmonica simultaneously.

A female vocalist named Neon guested on "The Thrill is Gone" and "I'm Tore Down." When not singing she worked the crowd admirably and did great percussion work.

Jim Williams put the great Mike Wilhelm's career in perspective by mentioning that Wilhelm was Jerry Garcia's favorite guitar player. Wilhelm interjected that he was playing though an amp that he bought from Garcia. (On a side note, both Mike Wilhelm and Betty Mae Fikes were pictured in recent issues of Rolling Stone Magazine.)

Wilhelm displayed great virtuosity and chops in his note selection during his solos. The band closed with "Red House' and "Further On Up The Road" to a great ovation by the crowd. Great set!


Though this writer has seen Twice As Good on two other occasions, the way they played Friday night was simply uncut, blistering, high energy blues power. It seemed like a different band. Celebrating the release of their new CD, Live At Pala Casino 2007, Rich and Paul Steward, Bruce Hodge and Chris Ho really gave it everything they had.

From the new CD, they started off with "T-Bone Shuffle.” From his first duck walking guitar solo, Paul was on fire. They did Jimmy Reed. They did Albert King. From the 1920s they reprised Big Maceo Merriweather. Paul played keyboards, blew saxophone and harmonica, sometimes intermittently within the same song.

They did Elmore James. They did the self-penned "Rancheria" from their first CD. They did Santana, Solomon Burke, Bobby Bland, Ray Charles, Santo & Johnny, Big Joe Turner and a little "Mustang Sally" too.

Their aunt danced nonstop on stage. It was her 400th show with her nephews!

The crowd was enthralled and adoring. It had to be seen to be believed.

This writer has heard a rumor that Paul Steward sat in with the critically acclaimed Robert Randolph & The Family Band recently and outplayed Robert Randolph. Mind you, it's a rumor. But I believe it was the great Jimi Hendrix who sang, anythang is possible, with the power of soul!


Unfortunately, this writer was unable to attend Saturday's closing act at the festival, Blues Express recording artist, the great Frankie Lee. From all reports I've heard, Lee put on an incredible show, which included Claudette King daughter of King Of The Blues, B.B. King.

I guess Butcher will just have to have them back sooner rather than later. Blues, blues and more blues in Lake County. What a concept!

Thurman Watts writes about music for Lake County News.




Paul Steward of Twice As Good with Robert Randolph of the Family Band. Photo courtesy of Paul Steward.



Rising stars, both overhead and on screen, are the specialty of the Coyote Film Festival sponsored by EcoArts of Lake County.

Before the night sky begins to darken over Langtry Estate and Vineyards (formerly Guenoc Winery) outside Middletown,  picnickers gather with their hampers of food to claim tables under a lush arbor of trumpet vine. The tasting room is open to dispense free tastes and paid glasses to take to the picnic table or to cloths spread on the lawn.

Some moviegoers bring in their mattresses, pillows and folding chairs to set up cozy encampments. And many settle for metal chairs, perhaps with a cushion or blanket to pad the seat.

The festival, now in its second year, is Karen Turcotte's dream come true. Regulars who attended last year's movies observed improvements – a better sound system, a bigger screen.

Turcotte scouts other festivals and their winners for promising films to show on Coyote's 20-foot screen. The skies provide their own show; last weekend, the crescent of a first-quarter moon, and once the passage of the space station.

Last weekend's program featured Jennifer Brett Winston's debut ocumentary film, “Fisher Poets,” a 42-minute reverie centered on the Fisher Poet Gathering, which started in Astoria, Washington, in 1998.

Sometimes moving in its nostalgia over the passing of an era of  independent fishermen and women, sometimes sparkling with light-hearted fun, “Fisher Poets” took six years to make.

Winston, who attended last weekend's festival, got started with National Geographic television, has produced documentaries for CBS, Discovery, A&E, Court TV, The History Channel, WNET (New York), TLC, and VH1. She and her team have won Emmy's for The Learning Channel's "Flight 93" (2002), and the Discovery Channel's "Jerusalem: City of Heaven" (1998).

Work on the last introduced her to famed documentarian Albert Maysles,  who is credited as a consultant on “Fisher Poets”. She said much of the film was produced with in-kind contributions of talent, which kept the cost at about $75,000, far below what it would have been with a paid crew.

It has been featured at San Francisco Independent Film Festival, at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev.,  and at film festivals in court, Townsend, Washington, Martha's Vineyard, Woods Hole and Dubrovnik.

The poetry of Billy Collins, former United States poet laureate and now poet laureate of the state of New York, was another highlight of last weekend's Coyote films, set to animation by Betsy deFries of Little Fluffy Clouds Production and Eun-Ha Paek of Milky Elephant Productions.

Comfortable, casual clothes in layers are recommended, as evenings can grow cool. Mosquito repellent may or may not be needed. Popcorn and bottled water are for sale, and the tasting room remains open during the films.

The Coyote Festival helps support EcoArts sculpture walk, now on display at Middletown County Trailside Park, with 35 works along the trail.

More films on this year's schedule will be shown August 17 and 18  and September 14 and 15. Admission is $12 general, $6 for children 12 and younger. Tickets are available from 7 p.m. until dusk, when the films begin.

The Langtry Estate and Vineyards are at 21000 Butts Canyon Road, Middletown.


E-mail Sophie Annan Jensen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



The summer concerts have been drawing larger crowds each week. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



LAKEPORT – Week seven of the Summer Concerts in the Park series continues this afternoon in Lakeport's Library Park.

The Reggae band Rootstock of Ukiah will bring their most unique sound to the multitudes that gather each Friday afternoon.

Warms temperaturess and light winds, great music and KNTI's top DJ Eric Patrick welcome and make comfortable the many hundreds who are enjoying the 19th year of the concert series.

The concert begins at 6:30 p.m.


Barry Brenner. Photo by Abbye Brenner.



UPPER LAKE – The inaugural Blue Wing Blues Festival has successfully joined the ranks of high brow Northern California music events.

Held from Wednesday, July 18, through Saturday, July 21, the event was the brainchild of maverick entrepreneur, Bernie Butcher, whose business savvy enabled him to draw some major talent to the small but mighty town of Upper Lake.

The event was sponsored by a hybrid coalition of business and private entities: KNTI Radio, The Tallman Hotel/Blue Wing Saloon, Remax Realty, and Dale and Jillian Billester.

Opening each night was Barry "Big B" Brenner, born and bred in that bastion of urban blues, Chicago's south side. Brenner is skilled in several sub genre's of the blues. These include Piedmont Rags, Texas Stomp, Atlanta Style and the good ol' Delta Slide. These styles were popularized from the 1920s forward by such iconic legends as Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red, Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly), Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Boy Fuller and this writer's favorite, Blind Willie McTell.

Brenner's Thursday night set went something like this. On "Highway 61" he utilized expert slide guitar fingerings on his National Steel guitar. For "Midnight Special," his axe of choice was the difficult 12 string guitar. When Big B played Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights" he broke out his 1933 National Steel Trovedor much to the delight of the guitar aficionados in attendance.

Brenner performed "San Francisco Bay Blues" as an up-tempo number and made his 12 string sing like an African banjo in conjunction with a blue banshee. I ain't lyin'!

Other numbers performed by Brenner included "Dust My Broom" written by Elmore James and "Silver Streak" written by Brenner's son. He closed with an original composition, "Steppin' Up & Go," a rouser which set the stage for the Blues Diva of Lake County, Miss Bettie Mae Fikes.

Brenner currently resides in L.A. and hopefully won't be a stranger to these Konocti Shores. For more information on Barry Brenner, visit

Closing the opening evening's festivities was Bay Area Legend Freddie Hughes. Hughes is famous for his hit, recorded in the late 60s, entitled "Send My Baby Back." The single has sold approximately 950,000 thousand units worldwide and as a result Hughes is hugely famous in Europe.

Ditto Upper Lake on Wednesday night. Hughes had the crowd in the cross hairs of his blues gun as he and the Rich Kirch Blues Band cranked out a virtual history of rhythms and blues.

Culling tracks from his soon to be released CD, Absolutue Hughes, Freddie performed such hits as "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You," "Last Two Dollars," "Love Land" and "Broke And Hungry."

His signature song, "Send My Baby Back," was the blues love ballad that brought the lovers in the house to the dance floor.

Rich Kirch is a fixture on the blues scene, most famously through his 13-year association with John Lee Hooker. Kirch has recorded and toured with many greats including Jimmy Dawkins, Jimmy Rodgers, Pinetop Perkins, Greg Allman, Jorma Koukonen, Billy Cox, Junior Wells and Hubert Sumlin.

The Rich Kirch Band consists of Rich Kirch, guitar; Michael Skinner, drums; and Ron Perry on bass.

The headliner on Thursday night was the great Bettie Mae Fikes. Though no longer residing in Lake County, Fikes continues to be our Blues Diva. Alas, now though, we must share her with the world. Blues patrons who frequented the now-defunct Konocti Blues Cafe know what I'm talking about.

A veteran of the Civil Rights movement, Fikes recently lent her chops to the recording of Mavis Staples' latest release, a reworking of those Civil Rights anthems and freedom songs that advanced the cause of the civil liberties that somehow are not paramount to the current administration of executive government. Hmm. Can the blues wax political? Anyway, Staples' new album, on which Bettie Mae contributes, is entitled “We'll Never Turn Back.

The band that backed Fikes included the talented guitarist Levi Lloyd, the great Andre Williams on drums, Ron Perry on bass and Carl Mureco on keyboards.

Tomorrow, Thurman Watts explores more of the great music brought to Upper Lake during the Blue Wing Blues Festival.




The Rich Kirch Blues Band. Photo by Abbye Brenner.



Freddie Hughes performs. Photo by Abbye Brenner.



The Levi Lloyd Band. Photo by Abbye Brenner.



D. Wills of the Levi Lloyd Band. Photo by Abbye Brenner.



Blues diva Bettie Mae Fikes. Photo by Abbye Brenner.






This is not the first time that a movie musical based on a stage musical has its origins in an original non-musical film. While Mel Brooks has no claim on “Hairspray,” it’s still a delightfully light and breezy comedy set to music which belies the musical’s roots in the disturbed mind of cult film director John Waters.

To tap into the zeitgeist of the quirky filmmaker’s predilection for the bizarre, one would only have to watch his classic “Pink Flamingos,” which starred the transvestite Divine in a role that was intended to shock normal sensibilities. In fact, Waters subtitled this film “an exercise in poor taste.”

The visible extent of John Waters’ involvement in this musical version of “Hairspray” is his appropriately funny cameo of a flasher on the streets of Baltimore. It’s a wink to the knowing members of the audience, even more so than having Alfred Hitchcock stroll through a scene in one of his classics.

Nevertheless, there’s nothing in bad taste about “Hairspray” unless you’re offended by the presence of John Travolta in drag, heavily padded by a fat suit so as to be practically unrecognizable. If offense is given, then you’re missing the point of a film which tilts the balance in favor of people who just don’t fit in to the everyday world of Baltimore circa 1962, when the push for integration and social acceptance is taking hold.

At the heart of this movie is a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart. Tracy Turnblad (delightful newcomer Nikki Blonsky), a perky yet chubby teen, bounces out of bed every morning with a passion for dancing. Every day after school, she rushes home with her best friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes) to watch the teen dance TV program, “The Corny Collins Show,” the object of her fantasy. It’s Baltimore’s hippest dance party, but her plus-sized figure sets her apart from the cool crowd and makes her an unlikely contestant. That is, until the day TV host Corny Collins (James Marsden) catches Tracy’s dance moves and finds her irresistible.

At home, Tracy is reminded of her outcast status by her loving but overly protective plus-sized mother Edna (John Travolta), who fears her daughter’s obsession with the TV dance show can only lead to heartache. Edna may be reserved because she hasn’t stepped foot out of the house since 1951.

Tracy’s eccentric dad Wilbur (Christopher Walken), who runs a shop that sells jokes and novelties, is more understanding. At school, Tracy is often in trouble and finds herself the only white student in detention, which proves to be fortuitous because she learns better dance moves from the black students. Of course, Tracy’s ease on the dance floor wins her a spot on “The Corny Collins Show” where she becomes an instant on-air sensation.

The sudden popularity of Tracy Turnblad causes much grief and consternation for the show’s reigning princess, the ice cool blonde beauty Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow). Even worse for Amber, it appears that her boyfriend Link Larkin (Zac Efron) is smitten with Tracy’s charms.

Not to be outdone by her pudgy rival, Amber gets an assist from her scheming mother Velma (Michelle Pfeiffer), the racist TV station manager who only lets blacks show up on the program in a monthly event that is condescendingly billed as “Negro Day.” The bitter Velma stops at nothing to keep the coveted “Miss Teenage Hairspray” crown in the family.

Meanwhile, with help from her school friends and record store owner Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah), Tracy becomes the catalyst of social reform by leading an integration march right on to the dance floor. It’s interesting how the serious issues of the early 1960s get wrapped up so neatly in song and dance, but the mission is effectively accomplished without being preachy, thus resulting in a movie both endearing and great fun to watch.

At its core, “Hairspray” is as bouncy as the bubbly Tracy and as goofy as her family members. With musical numbers wonderfully cheery, “Hairspray” is a perfect summer entertainment, full of laughs and an infectious spirit of fun that could put anyone in the mood to dance.

Tim Riley reviews movies for Lake County News.


Upcoming Calendar

10.05.2023 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Rotary Club of Middletown
Middletown Art Center
10.05.2023 6:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Clearlake City Council
10.06.2023 7:00 pm - 9:30 pm
David Arkenstone & Friends in concert
10.07.2023 9:00 am - 11:00 am
Sponsoring Survivorship Breast Cancer Run & Walk
10.07.2023 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
10.07.2023 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Falling Leaves Quilt Show
10.08.2023 10:00 am - 4:00 pm
Falling Leaves Quilt Show
Columbus Day
10.12.2023 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Rotary Club of Middletown
Middletown Art Center

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